In this file photo taken on 16 May 2018 a figurine carrying the logo of social network Facebook is viewed in Paris. Facebook said 20 November 2018 users were having trouble accessing the social network and its other applications such as Instagram, but did not explain the cause of the outages. Photo: AFP
In this file photo taken on 16 May 2018 a figurine carrying the logo of social network Facebook is viewed in Paris. Facebook said 20 November 2018 users were having trouble accessing the social network and its other applications such as Instagram, but did not explain the cause of the outages. Photo: AFP

South Korea’s information watchdog on Wednesday fined Facebook Inc. 6.7 billion won (US$6 million) for passing information of at least 3.3 million South Koreans to other companies in its first crackdown on the US tech giant.

The Personal Information Protection Commission (PIPC) said Facebook violated the country’s personal information law by providing personal information of at least 3.3 million of the country’s total 18 million local users from May 2012 to June 2018 to other companies without their consent.

It marked the commission’s first punishment against Facebook since it was launched in August this year, reports Yonhap news agency.

The commission said that when users logged into other company’s services using their Facebook accounts, the personal information of their Facebook friends was also shared to such service providers without consent.

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The personal information that was shared with other companies included users’ names, their addresses, dates of birth, work experience, hometowns and relationship statuses.

The watchdog said the exact amount of the shared information is unclear as Facebook did not provide relevant documentation.

Considering the information could be provided to at most 10,000 other companies, the watchdog said a considerable amount of personal information could have been shared.

The commission said it will refer Facebook Ireland Ltd—which was in charge of Facebook operations in South Korea from May 2012 to June 2018 -- to the prosecution for a criminal investigation.

Facebook Ireland’s director in charge of user privacy could face up to five years in prison or a maximum of 50 million won in fines if convicted of violating South Korea’s relevant personal information law.

It added that Facebook was uncooperative in its investigation as it submitted incomplete or false documents.

The commission also levied Facebook with a separate penalty of 66 million won for the false documentation.

Facebook expressed regret at the commission’s move.

“We cooperated with the investigation in its entirety,” Facebook said in a statement. “We have yet to closely review PIPC’s measure.”

In 2018, the Korea Communications Commission, South Korea’s telecommunications regulator, started investigations into Facebook before handing it off to the commission.

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